Loss of a mascot

Published: September 29, 2010

By Amelia Vogler
Sports Editor

Mascots are a silly thing.

If you stop and think about it, they can also be quite terrifying to small, innocent children who are overwhelmed by a large, stuffed spider towering above them. I’ve seen this encounter all too often.

How do schools and teams decide on a mascot? What draws inspiration for that symbol to represent the school’s identity in the form of a cartoon-version of an animal, person, plant, geographic formation or even weather phenomenon?

The University of Mississippi, affectionately known as Ole Miss, has been the source of contention regarding mascots for a long time. Colonel Reb, a caricature of a Southern plantation owner (white-bearded, cane-toting, Colonel Sanders lookalike), is the trademark logo for the Southern school’s charm and identity. But Colonel Reb has not been the official team cheerleader since 2003, and his image is still emblazoned upon zillions of different kinds of merchandise: T-shirts, flags, grills, you name it, Colonel Reb could be on it.

My high school mascot was the Rebel: We were the Douglas Southall Freeman High School Rebels and our colors were blue and gray, similar to Confederate soldiers’ uniforms. Despite the striking similarity between Colonel Reb of Ole Miss and the DSF Rebel, DSF’s Rebel still stands to this day.

The originality behind the representation of a rebel as a school mascot is central to the traditions of these two different, yet both Southern schools. You can find tigers, eagles, wildcats, bulldogs, Spartans and Trojans, patriots and pirates anywhere, but where else will you be able to find a Rebel? Only in the South.

The same is true for the New York Yankees – another mascot confined because of its geography.

The more you think about it, there are tons of strange-but-true mascots out there. For example, there are a plethora of exotic creatures that play mascot for many schools and teams. Texas Christian University’s mascot is the horned frog, an intimidating amphibian resembling some sort of lizard. University of California, Santa Cruz’s mascot creates a slick path of destruction with the banana slug representing its teams.

But amphibians and invertebrates aren’t the only slimy and unusual mascots in the NCAA. Many of our feathered friends are featured as mascots. The University of Oregon’s avian representative is a duck, perhaps closely related to Emilio Estevez’s “Mighty Ducks.” The University of Miami is a hurricane, but Sebastian the Ibis is the feathered friend you’ll see on the sidelines.

Then there is the Hokie, Virginia Tech’s ambiguous mascot. What is a Hokie anyway? Some say it is a turkey, others say that it is its own species. Regardless, that school has a cousin of the turkey as its mascot. Gobble, gobble.

I think that a school or franchise is really struggling, or trying to be different, when the mascot is a weather phenomenon or geographic formation. The MLB team, the Colorado Rockies, is named after the majestic mountains. While mountains are intimidating and awe-inspiring, one can simply traverse a mountain to conquer it. Not so fierce when it comes to competition.

The same can be true for the University of Alabama Crimson Tide. There is another meaning of crimson tide: the phenomenon of algal bloom, or more commonly known as “red tide.” Red tide occurs when large concentrations of microorganisms accumulate rapidly in the water, resulting in discoloration of the surface water. In other words, crimson tide is an unsightly mess in the normally clear waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Woof.

Some of the mascots inspired by people are also hilarious and atypical. Schools and professional teams across the country, and even the world, are inspired by the great armies of the past: the Spartans and the Trojans. There are many teams that begin with a battle cry, reminiscent of the Native American tribes, which symbolize the team mascot. But what about the mascots inspired by different kinds of people?

For example, the Oklahoma University Sooners were named for the nickname given to the early participants in the land rushes that initially opened the Oklahoma-Indian Territory to non-native settlement. History lends inspiration to many mascots across the lands.

These are just a few examples of crazy mascots that represent teams across the country and sometimes across the world. To strip a team of its mascot, the symbol from which the team draws inspiration, is inexcusable. Yes, some mascots have created whirlwinds of controversy throughout the years, but these schools and teams will lose their identity without them. Imagine trying to recreate traditions, cheers and more with a brand-new mascot. When you lose a mascot, you lose supporters, which trickles down to an end in school spirit.

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